Sensory Overload: Total Request Dead’s music grows with its confidence

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From the April 10, 2014 edition

In the midst of Tacocat’s playful set at Carabar on a recent Wednesday, frontwoman Emily Nokes offered up a few kind words about Total Request Dead, a C-bus trio that served as a warm-up alongside fellow locals Delay. “That’s so bitchin’,” she said of the band’s take on Josie & the Pussycats’ “Three Small Words.” “We used to cover that song, too.”

But where Tacocat’s music largely dealt with life’s various problems (sexism, harassment, etc.) by shrugging them off, filtering any lingering angst into a danceable assortment of bubblegum-pop tunes, TRD tended to absorb these blows and let the sting linger a beat longer.

In a November 2013 blog post penned shortly after TRD’s first concert at the Make Waves Fest, bassist Mack Schneider wrote about feeling uncomfortable as the center of attention. Yet the musician, who took the lead on roughly half of the band’s songs, exuded something approaching confidence during their time in the spotlight, delivering lines about self-improvement (“I’m learning every day,” they sang on one tune) in a sweet, clear voice. And while it occasionally sounded as though the musician were gritting their teeth in anticipation of the fall (“Feels a lot like I’m waiting around for something that’s just going to let me down,” they sang on another), more often than not she was able to draw some net positive from the situation — a chin-up vibe reflected in the bouncier nature of her tunes.

The band’s guitarist, in contrast, tended to take the lead on the hazier, less steady numbers. So while Schneider positioned herself facing the crowd, the guitarist turned sideways toward her bandmates. Her songs similarly turned inward, favoring hazy guitars, slower tempos and lyrics that frequently touched on trying (and failing) to make some kind of connection. “[I’m] trying to reach you,” she sang on one tune, her voice reaching out like an extended hand in the dark.

Taken in combination, these two poles painted a more complex portrait of maturation, flitting between struggle, hope, regression, acceptance, regret, loneliness and fulfillment — the sound, in other words, of someone coming gradually into his or her own. It’ll be thrilling to hear what emerges on the other side.